We need our state senators and assembly members to support fully funding UPK in every district in ways commensurate with the rest of our K-12 school system.
What’s it called when everyone in a system agrees about something and yet nothing seems to change or is done about it? In public education, an example of this problem is Universal Pre-Kindergarten (UPK) funding.
Universal Pre–K is a movement within the American education system to make access to preschool education available to all families, similar to the way kindergarten is available to all 5- and 6-year-olds.
Except it’s not universal or available to all families. Most districts who offer UPK have a lottery system in which they randomly pull names of children within the district up to the number of spots provided for in the grant funding the individual district has applied for and received.
Then the families who are lucky enough to be awarded the spots have to be able to get the child to and from the half day UPK and figure out child care for the other half of the day. If I’m a working mom out of the district, how do I make that work?
We send out letters to sixty families every year that tell them that their child has been awarded a spot in our UPK program that is run through a private provider in Springville, the Early Bird ChildCare Center. Pat Marcello, along with her daughter Colleen, have done a wonderful job of providing both UPK and child care services to the families of Springville since 1975.
Even if you’re not in education a simple google search “Does early intervention make a difference?” will result in 109,000,000 links to articles supporting early childhood education. The research is abundant and rich.
We KNOW, we have ALWAYS known, that early childhood education makes a huge difference in the lives of our children. I would argue it can be the most significant year of a child’s formal school life in which we can make enormous gains in learning and capacity that will impact the child for life.
The accomplishment of which I am most proud in my career as a school leader is the implementation of full day UPK in Randolph for our neediest students. All I did was say “yes” to Dr. Mary Rockey when she asked if she could start a SCIS (special class in an integrated setting) pre-kindergarten classroom for the children of that district. Mary rightfully advocated that bringing in our neediest children and connecting them to our providers at an earlier age would help us make important gains at a crucial time in brain development. That small rural school district now supports two SCIS classrooms and UPK half day for the other families who choose to participate. The growth I personally saw children make, through early intervention, was one of the most rewarding experiences of my career. And I did nothing as a leader but say yes to an administrator with an idea. Because it’s a special education program, the funding was rich and the local share was supported by the Randolph BOE members who also saw the importance of early intervention.
And yet we still have a competitive grant structure that leads to inadequate and uneven funding gained IF a school district has someone equipped at filing for a competitive grant OR wants to pay an outside entity to do so AND which grant funding they go after AND if they meet the criteria for the award.
We need our state senators and assembly members to support fully funding UPK in every district as they fund the rest of our K-12 school systems. Governor Cuomo heralds how much he’s done to support UPK to great applause in his state of the state address each year. I wonder if it’s actually a great way for Governor Cuomo to over-estimate his expenditures, saying that he’s dedicating a huge amount of money to UPK that doesn’t end up being awarded. I don’t pretend to understand his reasons for heralding the importance of UPK and then continuing an unfair, uneven and inequitable means of funding it.
We also need local districts to make decisions when budgeting to support early intervention through full day true UNIVERSAL pre-kindergarten for every family who chooses to send their children to our programs and we need to provide transportation. We have to push for fully funded UPK for all 4 year olds. How do we not when we know that this is perhaps the most critical year in a child’s learning?